An Evil Wizard! A cursed land! A rag-tag band of heroes! It sounds like the start of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, but it’s actually Dark Quest 3, the latest installment in Brain Seal Ltd’s action adventure game. Taking control of four heroes, you’ll need to guide them through not just combat, but difficult choices. The game plays like a tabletop role play game; half the time you will be facing encounters that require choices or successful dice rolls to navigate, the rest will be spent in combat, fighting on a chess-like board against monsters and villains.
Traveling has you draw encounter cards that then have to be resolved in some manner. You might encounter a friendly blacksmith willing to give you items for free, or a healing fountain, or a demon barring your path. While many are, of course, dealt with in combat, some use a twenty-sided dice roll to decide the outcome. Each character has four skills – strength, dexterity, intelligence and perception – which are tested. Failure, aside from a usually negative outcome such as losing items or getting debuffed, increases the character’s skill to make such skill checks easier for the rest of the run.
Other encounters present choices you have to carefully consider, as they might have a great impact on your quest. Do you accept the healing from the friendly treeman, or attack it, taking damage in return for a powerful rune? Sometimes the Evil Wizard directly casts magic at your characters, removing them for a number of turns, or giving you the choice to kill one of them in return for monetary rewards.
Combat is turn based, order decided seemingly at random, played on small girded boards. The type and number of enemies you face can vary between maps, but there are only a few combinations of both for each location. Fighting also uses cards, where you play them to control that hero’s actions. Monsters have cards as well, which you can see by clicking on them, and also seeing what they’ll prefer to attack. While each hero has at least an attack card, and the ability to boost defense, they also have a number of unique cards. Some are differing attacks, like the Barbarian’s ax throw, while others can provide buffs to other heroes, like the Knight shielding ability, and yet other card provide passive effects, like blocking damage after a number of attacks for the Lancer. Active cards are split into primary and secondary – you can do one of each for every hero, but using the primary cards immediately ends their turn.
Damage in combat is split into two types. Body damage (perhaps better called physical damage) is done by direct attacks, like those from the Savage or the Ranger. Magical damage is done by spells, by heroes such as the Firemage and (the presumably not evil) Wizard. Each damage type has a defensive shield attached to it, which takes the damage before the character’s real health. For example, a goblin might have only two health but three body shields. A body attack would have to deal a full five damage to kill the goblin, while a magical one only needs to do two.
Positioning on the grid board is everything in combat. If a character is surrounded, they take one extra damage for each enemy around them. Larger characters, like giant wolves, take three characters to surround instead of two, and even larger characters take your full part. You also need to remember that when a large character does a melee attack, it hits everyone on that side. The amount of times my summoned bear accidentally hit an adventurer while trying to hit an enemy next to them was embarrassing. Enemies also take positioning into account, swarming your characters or moving to where they can hit multiple at once. Keep track of what each monster can do, and know how best to avoid taking damage from them
Of the two currencies present within the game, crystals drive the rogue-like element. Collected infrequently, they can be used to upgrade locations with better healing or new encounters, or buying interesting items or unlocking characters for future runs. Your Crystals stay between quests, allowing you to accumulate them and spend wisely, but gold is lost on death, so you best spend it while you can. Thankfully common, gold can be used to buy equipment or services, such as hiring mercenaries or training to boost character abilities. It’s also needed for some encounters, such as paying to revive your dead heroes.
The ultimate aim of the game is to reach the Evil Wizard’s daemonic castle, and defeat him, freeing the Land. Each time your heroes all die, you simply go back to the start, and start again with a new group. Each location is more difficult than the last, with stronger enemies, either coming in bigger numbers or being greater in size. The non-combat encounters also become more dangerous, some capable of immediately killing your heroes on a failed roll, or affecting all your characters at once. Collected crystals can give bonuses in locations, including unlocking new heroes to use, but the real method to progressing further is a deeper understanding of the enemies you face – how & who they attack, how many appear in a single combat encounter. There is only a small number of combat maps for each location, meaning you can quickly learn how to use the environment to your advantage. You’ll also need to learn how best to synergize your hero’s abilities; using the Barbarian’s kick to get enemies into a line, allowing the Lancer’s piercing attack to deal more damage.
One of my favorite runs was using what I call “The Too Full Gang”, where I tried to fill the board as much as possible. The Lancer can summon her sister, the Dwarf King can summon a Royal Guard, the Fire Mage can summon a Firebeast, and the Druid can summon a bear and a fox. It was, in fact, a mess. Battles were cramped affairs, where some characters were blocked from reaching the enemy and so just had to stand around. I outnumbered the enemy most of the time, but actually leveraging those numbers was troublesome. Many of my summons died after only getting one attack off, but due to how the ability worked they’d come back next combat if the hero survived, so it was okay.
The atmosphere is certainly something. With the unmoving character models, detailed background sets and the Evil Wizard in the background like a particularly demented Game Master, it definitely feels like a board game I might be playing with a couple of friends. The music and sound effects are good, unique to each character and location. However, some elements of the game break the immersion, although not enough to subtract from the overall experience. Cards displaying the damage they’ll deal is good for tactical planning, but it doesn’t capture that inherent randomness in real board games, which would be decided with a die roll.
Although the game is out of early access, a number of noticeable bugs still remain. An encounter that is usually decided through choice forces you to make a die roll. Transforming a character into a dragon, because yes you can do that, causes them to lose all their items. It’s small things, but they can detract from the gameplay.
Another bad point is that, after a while, things start to seem monotonous. The same enemies, the same encounters – you have to find ways to make it interesting. What if I completely disregarded a character, never using them in combat? What if I choose to run away whenever possible, or take options that always deal damage over probably better ones? As is often true in Dungeons & Dragons and similar tabletop games, the most fun can be found going your own way.
Despite its seemingly simple mechanics, Dark Quest 3 is a fun, enjoyable game with a great deal of strategy involved. Sessions can be quite quick, as long as you don’t rush decisions, meaning you can go through a run rapidly. Sure, it has its annoying moments where your lynch pin hero gets surrounded and killed in a single round, but that just teaches you it’s a bad idea to run characters right into the dragon’s maw. You’ll want to try again and again, just to get a bit further, just to get a bit more gold.
- Very fun
- Don't get bogged down in gameplay
- Easy to start again after death
- Can become repetitive after a while
- Easy to go from a strong part to a weak one in a single fight
- Limited hero roster to begin with
James is a Life-long gamer, University Game Design Course Graduate, Aspiring Writer, and Pun-Enthusiast.
He knows he also drinks waaaaaaaaaaay too much coffee.